Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Bodleian Library’s Elizabethan Tapestry Map

From The Art Newspaper:
There is no village called Easewell in north Oxfordshire, although it is clearly shown as a delightful place with a parish church surrounded by fields on a unique map that has just gone on display in the Bodleian Library in Oxford—probably for the first time in 400 years.

The mythical village is just one of many mysteries surrounding a set of huge tapestry maps of English Midland counties, woven in silk and wool at fabulous expense around 1590 for a rich man called Ralph Sheldon. His own house in Warwickshire was originally shown, bristling with chimneys and the size of a small town, on each of the four maps though it only survives on one. The mysteries include who made the maps and where, and how such sumptuous and rare objects disappeared from history. They should have been famous, dazzling Sheldon’s guests when few would have seen a map of any kind, but researchers have found no references to them from the period.

Nick Millea, head of the library’s huge maps collection, knows there is no Easewell because he lives nearby; other maps show a moated farm called Caswell, so he wonders if the tapestry is a Tudor typo. He has found little to explain what happened to the maps in the centuries between Sheldon’s death in the early 17th century and the gift to the Bodleian of the Oxfordshire and Worcestershire tapestries in the early 19th century. In 2007, the library managed to acquire the biggest surviving chunk of Gloucestershire when it came on the market with an equally vague provenance. The Victoria and Albert Museum in London owns a few more fragments that the Bodleian hopes one day to reunite on display, while Warwickshire county council owns that map.

Damage from creasing suggests that the tapestries were folded for long periods, says Virginia Lladó-Buisan, the Bodleian’s head of conservation. And straight-edged gaps show where sections were deliberately cut out to use in upholstery—a chunk of Gloucestershire reportedly ended up as a fire screen. (Read more.)

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